Much has been made over the last couple of weeks of a “political earthquake” following the win of Douglas Carswell, on behalf of UKIP, to represent the constituency of Clacton in a by-election triggered by his own defection from the Conservatives. The win marked UKIP’s first tangible translation of supposed support into enough actual votes to take control of a constituency seat, and for that reason its significance is certainly considerable.
But the mainstream press’s rush to churn out thinkpiece after thinkpiece on a ‘seismic shift’ in British politics seems overblown, particularly since an election in Clacton does not necessarily indicate how UKIP will fare in next year’s general election. After all, an area choosing again to vote for the man that they had happily elected just over four years earlier (albeit under a different party banner) should not come as a huge surprise.
This is a plain fact that should have been at the forefront of all coverage of the result that night in Clacton and yet, as previously mentioned, the comment articles have come in thick and fast (freelancers have to make their money somehow I guess) to herald a new order in British politics in which UKIP are apparently a force capable of dominating the political landscape for years to come – we are not at that low just yet. It all makes for great, sensationalist headline-writing, but whether UKIP are a party capable of crippling the border support of the two main parties still very much remains to be seen.
As the exhaustive coverage of the party ratchets up with every passing day, it does raise the important question of just who needs who most? Nigel Farage, a man whose ‘appeal’ seems to be very much in the vein of Boris Johnson (who bafflingly continues to be adored despite his simultaneous incompetence and lack of care to deal with the social and ethnic cleansing currently resulting from London’s housing crisis), as an evil, but marketable ‘character’, finds himself in thrall to a mainstream British press landscape that thrives on such figures in order to stoke controversy, laughs and, most importantly, online hits.
Farage needs the press to continue to deliver that round-the-clock verbatim coverage of his every word, while struggling news providers need somebody that they can rely on to fuel a thousand comment pieces (do not fear, the irony of this statement appearing here is not lost on me). The two find themselves in an almost incestuous, symbiotic relationship as they desperately leech of the other for whatever gain they can muster up.
Early last week, it was revealed that Farage had been invited to join one of three proposed televised leadership debates in the run-up to the 2015 General Election alongside David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. A joint statement on the plans issued by the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 said that they reflected “changes in the political landscape,” clearly marking out a reference to the inclusion of Farage who had not featured in any of the three leadership debates of the 2010 General Election.
It can be argued that it would be a considerable mockery of democracy to not include a party that is growing fairly rapidly and has just won its first MP in Douglas Carswell, so perhaps the inclusion of Farage in the debates is a fair decision, though another white, male, middle-aged addition to the other three options presented in 2010.
However, without wishing to resort to A-Level politicking, having won its first seat in parliament in May 2010, the argument could be made for the inclusion of the Green Party to be included in the debates too since they currently hold just as much say in parliament as UKIP, not to mention that they have seen their Scottish membership increase almost threefold in the wake of the Scottish Independence referendum as numerous ‘Yes’ voters flock from Labour to those parties that backed the ‘Yes’ campaign.
However, if we are being honest, not many of us could name the current leader of the Green Party and this is what the entire issue comes back to. Farage and his PR team have deviously, but very smartly cultivated a personality, with the enablement of Britain’s mainstream media, based around apparent characteristics of being forthright because he ‘speaks his mind’ (read: is a massive arsehole) and a ‘man of the people’ rather than those stuffy careerists of the other parties because he spends a lot of time in pubs.
Anybody that struggles to see past the smoke and mirrors of this spin though should frankly engage the critical part of their brain a little more often. He is, after all, the man that showed up in the middle of Clacton, a deprived seaside town in which 41% of adults have no qualifications according to a report last year, the day after UKIP’s election victory, in a gleaming, silver Range Rover, wandering the streets with a beaming, smug grin, but completely failing to engage any of its population.
Back in 2010, Farage could barely even get any press coverage when he was being hurtled to the ground in a plane crash during a last-ditch political stunt – now the same story would probably be given the same level of coverage by the mainstream press afforded to the assassination of JFK, the Watergate scandal or any other world-changing political event in the last millennium.
Perhaps a little retreat back to the heady days when Farage was just a minor, laughable footnote on Britain’s political scene, or at least to a time in which he was not gifted so much sycophantic coverage of his every word, would be for the best. That though would require a considerable shake-up in the way the lamentable landscape of populist political journalism operates in this country, and that looks like it is a long way off, and so we continue further into the bigoted mist – UKIP may be a growing political force, but just how much of that has been aided by the media class?